Curtains Open

A not too serious tale. Short story by Colin Devonshire

Curtains Open

‘By the sound of it, we have a full house.’

‘What do you mean, “by the sound of it,” how can you tell from back here?’

‘Experience, my dear boy,’ Georgie Boy panted. Years of beating the boards told him. He had lost the status of leading man a year ago, now, he was one of the cast. Did he mind? Yes, nobody wants to get older, especially when looks fade. As hard as he coloured the grey, another hair fell out.

The new leading man had been picked. Not because of his acting skills, which were okay, but because, he looked the part. That, and he was the director’s latest fling.

Marcello, or Mark, to those who knew him off stage, was the ideal partner. A tall, dark looker who winked and cheekily smiled his way between sheets. Unbeknown to him, he had been groomed. Showing some talent in school plays, he caught the eye of Mr Franks, director and talent spotter.

Mr Franks took him from his parents’ tatty council house. To live in his second London pad and to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Marcello acted his way through the course. He was getting good reviews. Not raves, okay at least, good enough to perform as the devoted boyfriend of Mr Franks.

The audience hushed as the curtain opened. Marcello swept to the front of the stage, gulped and ducked out of sight.

‘Christ, what’s wrong with him,’ screamed the director.

Georgie Boy, smirked, ‘Don’t worry, they think it’s part of the act.’ He thumbed the crowd, as he walked to the wings. ‘I’ll go see to him.’

Marcello was throwing up as Georgie Boy put his arm across his shoulder.

‘What’s the matter, Dearie, first night nerves?’ he gushed.

After spitting in a bucket and gargling with water, Marcello found his voice.

‘Didn’t you see that?’

‘What, we have a full house, as I suspected.’

‘No, idiot, the dead body, sat in the middle of the front row?’

‘Don’t be daft. Do you mean somebody died just now? As the curtains opened, and he’ll miss the show?’ Georgie Boy laughed as he peered at the front row. ‘Get out there, get on with it, and stop playing about, the man in the middle is cheering and clapping.’

Marcello glimpsed around the heavy drape.

‘Eh, how come, he was dead?’ Marcello said as he gathered himself. He stalked on stage to the laughter and cheers of the surprised crowd.

Gradually, Marcello shook off the fright. He began moving with grace. His voice boomed his velvety lines to Milly, the beautiful leading lady. She smiled and egged him on to better himself.

The audience was enthralled. Gasping and grinning, smiling and gawping, shocked and stunned at the skill of the performers.

Georgie Boy swept across the stage as Milly exited towards the end of Act One.

‘Curtains,’ called Marcello as he dashed offstage. To the shock of fellow actors, they attempted to carry on as if the abrupt exit of the leading man was planned.

Marcello ran to the gents, sloshing cold water on his face, gasping for breath, sweat ran in rivulets.

‘He is dead?’ he panted to the stagehands, rescuing him.

‘Nobody is dead,’ they answered.

‘He is, I saw him keel over, he is on the floor.’

‘No, Marcello, maybe he dropped something and bent to retrieve it?’

‘He went white before my eyes and froze! I saw him.’

The lads guided him to his dressing room as Georgie Boy burst in, ‘Do you want me to take over? I can you know.’

Marcello slurped a lukewarm mug of tea, calmed himself once more and marched back to the stage.

‘Are you sure no one died?’ he whispered to a stagehand as he passed.

He was answered by a puzzled shake of the head.

The heavy drapes reopened as Milly led Marcello out to a burst of applause.

The 1930s set was heavy with puffed furniture, antique table and chairs begging for action. Marcello guided Milly to the settee. She breathed her undying love for him as Marcello’s arms tangled with hers. As the evil landlord burst in, brandishing a pistol.

‘Pay me what you owe,’ he screamed, the gun blasted, and smoke escaped the barrel.

The audience gasped and booed, catcalling the baddie.

Marcello hit the floor.

‘That’s not supposed to happen,’ whispered the landlord.

‘Follow my lead,’ answered Milly.

‘Oh, darling, love of my life, don’t die, please don’t leave me,’ she acted.

‘I didn’t mean to kill him,’ said the landlord. ‘I only meant to scare him.’

Milly needed a second to think of her new made-up words.

‘Did he shoot that man in the front row?’ whispered Marcello as he came around.

‘Oh, thank the lord, he’s alive,’ said the actress.

The landlord recovered his composure and found his place in the lines, ‘I still must have the money you owe me.’

Marcello staggered to the front of the stage, ‘He shot him,’ he screamed as he pointed at the front row. He turned and ran off stage.

Milly and the landlord stood and stared at each other arms outstretched. Milly signalled the curtains to close.

‘What is wrong with him?’ asked the landlord as they marched to the dressing rooms.

The stage manager was flapping a towel above Marcello’s head, who had passed out again as he left the stage.

‘Get an ambulance,’ he ordered.

The director appeared, ‘What about my show?’

An announcement was read out.

‘Sorry, but because of sickness to one of our stars, we will have to cancel. Please keep your tickets, you can use them when we reschedule. The new dates will be published on our website.’

‘Call the police, there has been a murder,’ Marcello asked one of the ambulance men as they drove from the theatre. The puzzled man did as requested, soon a police car pulled up at the hospital.

Marcello explained what he had witnessed. The police went straight to the theatre.

They found a trail of blood from the middle of the front row, backwards and up to the gent’s toilets. A bloody shirt was found rolled in a bin and puddles of blood spilt across the floor. The actors and stage crew were all recalled, and the questioning started. Detectives arrived and asked the same questions.

‘We’ll start with you, eh, Mr Georgie Boy…’

‘You think it was me? Because he nicked my leading man role?’

Mr Franks was next to be grilled.

‘But, but, he’s just a fling.’

A police radio crackled.

‘What, pig’s blood?’

Milly sat at her favourite bar, hugging her sixth gin and tonic. And her toy boy, who is brilliant at playing dead.

‘I know why you love me, I’m not only beautiful, I’m smart too. The dopey leading man will never act again. The gay director will be arrested for murder and that hideous Georgie Boy will crack up. Leaving me, yes me, darling to run the show! Do you want a job?’

The END

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